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Twila Van Leer: I'm ready to start doing family history

In a few weeks, I'll be 83, the perfect time to start a new project. I'm going to become a proficient family historian, I hope.

Those of you who know me know I have long had an interest in history, particularly LDS Church, Utah and pioneer history. I don't at all profess to being an expert in these (or any other) categories. I'm very much a home-garden-variety historian. I can't claim any depth of study or research, but I am fascinated by these topics. After all, don't we all sit atop a huge accumulation of what went before?

So, why haven't I extended this interest into the area of family history before now? It's something that my church leaders have advocated throughout my life. My conscience has been regularly jolted as I am reminded that I haven't conformed. I am conversant with all the very good reasons there are for doing it. I could probably give a great discourse on the subject without ever having done any of the work.

I have seen lists of the most common reasons why people don't become effective family historians, and I have used them all as excuses. Here they are:

Excuse No. 1: Time: Family history is time-consuming. This excuse may have had validity when I was working full time and rearing about a dozen children. I was lucky at times to have enough hours in the days to take care of all the necessities, such as checking to see that my shoes were both the same color before I headed out the door to work. I was literally so encumbered by my progeny at that time that I could give little thought to my ancestry. But now my chickies have flown the coop. I was involuntarily retired from my newspaper job when I was 79, and the time excuse, frankly, has lost its relevance.

Excuse No. 2: My family lines have been done to death. Both my mother and father came from respected pioneer families of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they have had faithful and devoted descendants who have diligently worked to cull the names and connections of their genealogical histories and get the temple work done to weld us into eternal families.

My thinking along these lines, when I have taken any thought at all, is why should I waste time, a very precious commodity, reinventing the wheel, hoeing the same ground, etc.? I know, I know. There are countless ancillary lines that could be researched, but again, my excuse comes to the fore. How do I know how many of the dozens of family genealogists are currently working these lines? No longer a valid conclusion, what with the computer on the job, they tell me, but a great excuse nonetheless.

Actually, as I start this grand adventure, my brother Joe, who with his wife, Julia, directs the family history center in Phoenix, tells me that our great-grandfather, Martin Hortin Peck, an early convert to the LDS Church, an acquaintance of the Prophet Joseph Smith, first sealer of weights and measures in Utah Territory, longtime 17th Ward bishop, missionary and all-around exemplary ancestor, is on a list currently posted by the church as IOUS. That means Individual Of Unusual Size.

Dozens of versions of his family line have been submitted. They vary in many details. His temple work has been done over and over again. Some sources say he was married to seven women, others that he had five wives. We subscribe to the latter version, believing ourselves to be descendants of his fourth wife, Charlotte Amelia Van Orden, if our records are accurate. While these convoluted records are resolved, we don't have access to them.

Last, but most telling, excuse: Technology. I am a techno-idiot, a techno-phobe, a techno-boob, whatever techno-hyphen you want to use that indicates a singular lack of expertise. I'm frankly scared to death of my computer, and I feel comfortable in telling you that the feeling goes both ways. My computer sees me coming and does things that Steve Jobs couldn't fathom. At night when I go to bed, I am convinced that all my electronic equipment gathers in a closet somewhere and thinks up new ways to stymie my attempts to get along with the 21st century.

Sure, it's requisite in this day and age to learn something about computers. As a longtime reporter/editor, I had to develop some skills. I developed enough to write a story and direct it to the proper copy desk for editing and headlining. I learned some editing proficiencies. I learned just enough to do my job — nothing more. And when I retired, I forgot what I had learned. Of course, I could go to our family kindergartners and be refreshed, but it has become a matter of pride.

So here goes the pride. I'm determined. I will conquer. I'm going to make a friend of my computer, and I'm going to learn to navigate the FamilySearch waters. I will not stop until I have generated a family name on my own to take to the temple. Stay tuned.

Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who has recently been called to serve as a family history missionary.